The Theatreguide.London Review
Noel Coward Theatre 2019 - 2020; 2021 -
Coming from Broadway with a
long list of Tony Awards (and, in an indication of modern theatre
economics, a long list of producers more than three times the size of the
cast), this new musical actually is both very original and very very good.
Author Steven Levenson
(mainly TV credits) and songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (films La
La Land and The Greatest Showman) have found a new subject for a musical
and explore it with gratifying sensitivity and depth.
As someone in the show
actually says, the only people who enjoy life in an American high school
are the football players and cheerleaders. The others, however
successfully they navigate the straits of adolescence, spend much of their
teen years fearing that they are misfits, rejects, outsiders and, most
painfully, uniquely and irretrievably weird.
Dear Evan Hansen is the
Catcher In The Rye of musicals, that reassures the lost teenager remaining
buried in all of us that we were neither inadequate nor alone in our
When one teenage misfit kills
himself, events conspire to convince his grieving family that another boy
– Evan – who barely knew him was in fact his best friend.
At first just trying
awkwardly to be kind but then lured by a family more loving and supportive
than his own, Evan goes along with the mistake, even elaborating on the
stories of a friendship that never existed.
Eventually the wider high school culture and – thanks to the internet – whole world joins in a cult-like grieving for the dead boy and celebration of the imagined perfect friendship.
(It must be admitted that
Steven Levenson writes himself into a corner here where no ending, either
involving Evan confessing or continuing the deception, could be happy, and
the ending he comes up with requires considerable fudging of morality and
The portrait of Evan's lonely
unhappiness is thoroughly convincing and sympathetic to anyone who has not
completely repressed all memories of adolescence, as is the way every
other teenage character we meet has his or her own brand of unhappiness.
And the score by Pasek and
Paul is filled with songs that do exactly what the best pop music should,
by giving voice to real-life adolescents and former adolescents who don't
have the words to express their own feelings.
Waving Through A Window
evokes the feeling of being doomed to be a perpetual outsider, while If I
Could Tell Her could be the cry of every tongue-tied and
inadequate-feeling boy in love.
The show's anthem, You Will
Be Found, offers reassurance and emotional support at exactly the right
realistic level – not promising happily ever after, but just that everyone
matters – that can be heard by unhappy young people.
I don't want to give the
impression this is a show just for teenagers. It has been many years since
I was a teenage nerd, but song after song had that shock of recognition
when someone else says out loud what you always thought you were alone in
And there are other strong
songs as well. I can see the love duet Only Us becoming a
many-times-covered standard, while To Break In A Glove touchingly captures
an adult's fumbling attempt to connect with a youngster.
The largely British cast does
full justice to the American story.
In his West End debut Sam
Tutty should be making room on his shelves for all the Best Newcomer
awards he will be collecting. Onstage almost uninterruptedly and at least
part of almost every song, he ably carries the emotional burden of the
play, creating a believable and sympathetic character and, not
incidentally, singing beautifully.
Fellow newcomer Lucy Anderson
might just steal a few of Tutty's awards as the girl Evan loves from
behind his shyness, who turns out to be as wounded, needy and eventually
strong as he.
There is solid support from
Rebecca McKinnes, Lauren Ward and Rupert Young as parents trying to
understand these strange young people in their homes, and from Doug
Colling, Jack Loxton and Nicole Raquel Dennis as teenagers each with their
own thoroughly recognisable unhappinesses.
While Danny Mefford is
credited as choreographer there are no dance numbers as such, Mefford and
director Michael Greif moving people around the stage with an attractive
and uninterrupted fluidity, while Greif must also be credited with guiding
his performers to such fully-realised characterisations.
Dear Evan Hansen may not be stylistically groundbreaking as Hamilton is. But it takes the musical genre into new emotional territory and explores it with invention and sensitivity, creating a richly satisfying experience.
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